In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Intergroup Conflict

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Evidence that Intergroup Contexts are Prone to Conflict
  • Varieties of Intergroup Conflict

Psychology Intergroup Conflict
Brian Lickel, Manisha Gupta
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0013


Groups are fundamental to human life. People organize their lives around group identities and derive not only material but also symbolic benefits from being members of groups. Unfortunately, there is also a strong tendency for conflict, prejudice, and violence to occur between groups. Intergroup conflict has therefore been the focus of intense study, and this review provides an overview of the many strands of research on the topic. Research has shown a pervasive tendency for relations between groups (i.e., intergroup relations) to be conflict-prone, and for people to treat and view members of their own groups ( more favorably than members of out-groups. There are multiple causes of this propensity for intergroup conflict and in-group bias. However, the two chief causes of conflict are the pervasive and automatic tendency of people to categorize themselves and others in terms of in-group–out-group divisions and the role that in-groups play in guiding people’s responses to threats of all kinds. Once conflict exists between two groups, many social and psychological processes come into play that tend to maintain and escalate conflicts once they have begun. Although intergroup conflict seems inevitable, there are also reasons for optimism. Decades of research now provide multiple means of improving intergroup relations, and new research is focused on how to build social movements to prevent conflict and prejudice. Thus, although intergroup conflict remains a source of much oppression, fear, and violence in the world, these negative outcomes are not inevitable.

General Overviews

Christie, et al. 2001; Dovidio and Gaertner 2010; Sidanius and Pratto 1999; Tropp 2012; and Yzerbyt and Demoulin 2010 are five excellent overviews of intergroup conflict and reconciliation processes. Dovidio and Gaertner 2010 and Yzerbyt and Demoulin 2010 provide overviews of intergroup conflict from a social-psychological perspective. Christie, et al. 2001 provides a perspective from peace psychology, which focuses more on active interventions to promote peace, and Tropp 2012, an edited volume, integrates peace psychology and social-psychology perspectives. Sidanius and Pratto 1999 introduces social dominance theory, an influential and comprehensive model that integrates psychological and political perspectives on intergroup conflicts.

  • Christie, D., R. V. Wagner, and D. D. Winter. 2001. Peace, conflict, and violence: Peace psychology for the 21st century. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    This volume offers a broad overview of intergroup conflict from the perspective of peace psychology. It is particularly appealing for its breadth of coverage, ranging from violence at the individual level to intergroup level, as well as a very diverse set of chapters on peace-building methods.

  • Dovidio, J. F., and S. L. Gaertner. 2010. Intergroup bias. In Handbook of social psychology. Vol 2. 5th ed. Edited by S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, and G. Lindzey, 1084–1121. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    This handbook chapter is a concise and up-to-date summary of social psychological theory and research on prejudice and intergroup bias, and the methods to reduce it. The focus here is on individual-level psychological processes and interpersonal interactions in intergroup conflict, rather than on large-scale conflicts.

  • Sidanius, J., and F. Pratto. 1999. Social dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139175043

    This book presents social dominance theory, an influential theory of intergroup relations that focuses on the maintenance and stability of group-based social hierarchies. Group-based inequalities are maintained through three primary intergroup behaviors: institutional discrimination, aggregated individual discrimination, and behavioral asymmetry. People differ in the extent to which they endorse hierarchy-enhancing ideologies, which is referred to as “social dominance orientation.”

  • Tropp, L. 2012. The Oxford handbook of intergroup conflict. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199747672.001.0001

    This handbook contains a collection of chapters from leading scholars in social psychology and peace psychology. The overarching goal of the volume is to bridge basic and applied scholarship in the field of intergroup conflict and conflict resolution.

  • Yzerbyt, V., and S. Demoulin. 2010. Intergroup relations. In Handbook of social psychology. 5th ed. Vol. 2. Edited by S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, and G. Lindzey, 1024–1083. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    This handbook chapter is an excellent overview of current social psychological research on intergroup conflict. The chapter is a particularly strong source of information about the roles of categorization and emotion in intergroup conflict.

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